UMC Update August 2022 — Love Still Grows Here

From Dr. Michael Roberts,
Senior Pastor:

More than 100 people participated in this gathering, as part of our new Wonderful Wednesday.  Pastor Michael started by saying he would have been at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church this week in Minneapolis. He notes that the weather was great there – 70 and sunshine.  It would have been nice on the outside, but on the inside, it may not have been as comfortable. The big issue would have revolved around what was called the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.”  This Protocol, if passed, would have allowed for the creation of a new Methodist denomination, where conference and congregations could join with a 57% vote.  No vote would be necessary to stay United Methodist. That would have been the default position. Twenty-Five million would be allocated for the new denomination.

Pastor Dede joined in the presentation telling us that this Protocol was to be presented to the General Conference of 2020, which did not happen due to the pandemic. It was rescheduled for 2022 and postponed again.  The Next General Conference will be in 2024.

With these postponements, a group announced the start of a new denomination called the Global Methodist Church effective in May of this year. Here are a few things we know about this new denomination, with both pastors sharing different points.

  1. The GMC launched in May but is not formed. The GMC does not have many of the necessary requirements for a denomination in the Wesleyan tradition: no settled and approved Book of Discipline; no General Conference; no bishops elected; no annual conferences constituted.  
  2. Churches and members in the GMC will have to strictly adhere to the doctrines and practices of the church. The processes to expel a member or a congregation are remarkably easy and one- sided. A bishop who is unhappy with a pastor can simply choose not to appoint him or her.
  3. The spark for the rise of this denomination is human sexuality, with strict exclusions to same-sex marriage and the exclusion of some from being able to serve in ministry, as clergy or laity.
  4. With the theme of human sexuality, in the GMC, someone in a same-sex relationship who wants to marry and to live in faithfulness and grow in God’s love through that relationship, cannot work in a church, even as a lay person.
  5. We can reflect on the differences between our Social Principles and the Social Witness from the GMC. Our United Methodist Social Principles are not considered church law. They are intended to be prayerful and thoughtful efforts to spark discernment and understanding. The Social Witness in the GMC carries the weight of law, and to add or change anything to this Witness requires a ¾ majority vote from their General Conference. 

This new denomination is attractive to some who want more uniformity of thought around certain matters.  Several churches have entered into an official disaffiliation process, allowed by a provision put into the Traditional Plan passed at the 2019 General Conference.  Congregations can disaffiliate over matters of human sexuality with a 2/3 vote of professing members, with some cost involved.  (An extra year of apportionments, unfunded pension liability, title transfer cost, etc).   Currently, there are around 60 congregations in Arkansas that are in a discernment process, most are small, with some notable larger congregations.  (There was discussion around this). Not all of these will disaffiliate.  Many will, however, be divided.  The vote is and will create much division. 

 Our pastors expressed gratitude for our congregation and for our heart for unity in love.  The default position is the United Methodist Church.  No vote is needed to remain UMC.  At this time, there are no efforts to get our Church Council to vote to enter into this process.  We are and will remain a United Methodist Church.  


Turning to Our Congregation:


After the 2019 General Conference, our Church Council put out a statement “Love Still Grows Here,” which was built upon our Vision Statement passed in 2015.  We said, regarding human sexuality, “In humility, we acknowledge that we do not fully understand matters of sexual orientation and identity, so we want to approach these matters with less judgment and more compassion. At the same time, we affirm a strong sexual ethic rooted in the values of monogamy, faithfulness, commitment, and the virtues summed up with the word love.” 

From our Love Grows Here Statement (2015) we read: “We accept people wherever they are on their faith-journey and believe that a variety of perspectives helps all of us to grow. We come together, not to agree on everything, but to learn how to love, forgive, bless, and honor one another. In this way we practice for our place as citizens of God’s expansive kindom which is always bigger than our finite perspectives.” I love that and hope that we can live into it.

There was more discussion around these thoughts with prise for our congregation and our desire to create a welcoming spirit.   

Before a time of Q andch A, our pastors quoted from a letter written by the Council of Bishops.  Our Bishops said, “Christ’s prayer for our unity and command to gather all to the table,” calls us to be more than “a traditional church or a progressive church or a centrist church.” “We cannot be a gay or straight church. Our churches must be more than echo ambers made in our own image arguing with each other while neglecting our central purpose.” “Instead, we must be one people, rooted in scripture, centered in Christ, serving in love and united in the essentials of our faith.”

The meeting continued with Q and A and a preview of next week, where we will focus more on who we are as United Methodist Christians – our core beliefs, commitments, and our hopes for the future.